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Another 110 business execs join appeal warning Netanyahu about harm to democracy

Elah Alkalay, chairperson of IBI Mutual Funds, says business sector worried about politicization of Israel’s judiciary system

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

View of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on November 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
View of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on November 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

More than a hundred senior Israeli corporate executives and fund managers on Tuesday joined an appeal initiated last week to warn Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu that his coalition’s desired policies are threatening Israel’s image of a stable democracy in the world.

One of the signatories, Elah Alkalay, chairperson of IBI Mutual Funds, which manages about NIS 10 billion ($2.9 billion) in assets, said that the main concern of the business sector is that the looming legislation could alter the country’s checks and balances and lead to a politicization of Israel’s judiciary system and entrench its principles of democracy.

Netanyahu’s incoming coalition bloc plans to curtail the judiciary, make changes to quasi-constitutional Basic Laws and grant sweeping powers in the West Bank to far-right lawmakers. A party leader with an anti-LGBTQ agenda has also been granted authority over some education programs.

“The main concern is that if the judicial system is politicized, we are regarded by the international community like countries such as Hungary or Poland or even Turkey where political needs preside over economic and judicial considerations impacting transparency, and predictability increasing the risk and the cost of doing business,” Alkalay told The Times of Israel in written comments.

Netanyahu has until midnight to inform President Isaac Herzog, who formally tasked him with forming a new ruling coalition after last month’s Knesset elections, whether he has the votes to swear in a new government.

The appeal letter to Netanyahu, initiated by Erez Shachar, co-founder of Tel Aviv-based venture capital firm Qumra Capital, and signed by tech executives and serial entrepreneurs last week, comes as members of the incoming coalition have vowed to pass the so-called override clause, and also to give the governing coalition of the day control over the panel that selects justices.

Elah Alkalay, chairperson of IBI Mutual Funds. (Courtesy/IBI)

The bloc, consisting of Netanyahu’s Likud party, two ultra-Orthodox factions and three far-right parties, has been pushing through the Knesset contentious legislation set down as political prerequisites for finalizing the hardline government ahead of the deadline for declaring a coalition. The planned legislation includes a High Court override clause that will curtail the judiciary by allowing the Knesset to re-legislate laws that are struck down by the High Court.

Last week, Mellanox Technologies founder Eyal Waldman said that he has already been approached by investors outside of Israel raising questions about the country’s proposed judiciary reform.

Alkalay said that she hasn’t been approached by foreign investors, but added that she expects that to happen “if the judicial system is compromised.”

Asked about what the appeal by senior representatives of the business sector is seeking to achieve, Alkalay said: “We are hoping the incoming government will reconsider the proposed changes realizing the potential impact they may not have considered fully.”

The proposed legislative actions have the potential to do harm to the economy, to women’s rights, to the high-tech sector and to the general public, Alkalay cautioned.

“We hope the public outcry and the new and diverse perspectives will bring at least several of the new cabinet members to reconsider their position,” she said.

Among the 110 signatories of the petition signed this week are Zvi Stepak, chairman of the Meitav Investment House and its CEO Ilan Raviv; Amit Mashiach, CEO at the McCann Israel advertising company; Israel Makov, former Teva CEO, and others.

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